When To Do It Yourself – And When Not To

Gigantic home improvement centers and hardware stores have sprung up to service virtually every community in the country with a vast array of tools and building supplies available to every home owner. You can find literally hundreds of books and magazines dedicated to the subject of home improvement, many in the form of do-it-yourself (DIY) manuals. The craze has also been popularized by TV shows such as the long running PBS “This Old House” series and various clones.

Saving money is perhaps the main motivation behind most DIY projects. Coupled with that is the fact that some people simply enjoy working with their hands. They derive a sense of satisfaction out of building things and doing their own repairs. As professional trades people, we fully understand this feeling of pride at seeing the fruit of one’s own labor take shape. There is nothing more satisfying than completing a home improvement project successfully. We would be the last to discourage anyone from tackling a project.

However, as professional trades people, we also get to see the flip side of that coin on a regular basis. Hardly a week goes by when our company isn’t called to finish or repair a botched job by someone whose expertise didn’t quite match his or her ambition. Here is just a short list of the many unexpected things that tend to arise in home improvement jobs:

Incomplete instructions. Mr. and Mrs. Home Owner buy one of those packaged products at the home center that comes with installation instructions. However, the instructions are not always written in clear language, or sometimes leave out critical steps. It’s like a cooking recipe that uses terms such as “dicing…simmering…basting.” People who know their way around a kitchen know what to do, but a beginning novice may not be familiar with common cooking terms. Same with do-it-yourself work.

Coping with the unexpected. No matter how detailed the instructions, they cannot account for every possible situation that may arise with a home improvement project. The box containing the kitchen faucet you bought at the new home center may have instructions telling you how to remove the old one and put in the new, but what happens when you discover stripped threads and a rusted “frozen” nut that resists turning by even the strongest hands and pipe wrench?

Harder and more time-consuming than expected. Most people tackle larger projects on weekends, and maybe for an hour or two at night after they arrive home from their regular jobs. The first few weeks of this is a labor of love. As time passes, though, the project takes up all of a person’s free time and becomes drudgery.

According to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), many professional remodelers won’t even take on a DIY job gone bad. They find it too difficult to fix the problem and too many liabilities involved in taking on the work. Often the rescue job may end up costing more that a project started from scratch by a professional, because the professional may have to first “undo” much of the DIY work. Here are some guidelines for deciding which jobs to tackle on your own:

Painting is usually a good DIY job — in fact, it’s the most popular DIY project among homeowners. The best part about paint is that it is just paint. If you mess up the job, you can always paint over your mistakes. Local paint companies can offer advice for the best finish. However, if you have high ceilings or tend to be clumsy, you may want to call in reinforcements and avoid climbing your ladder.

Cleaning out gutters and checking the roof are other good spring-cleaning tasks; however, replacing a roof should be left to a professional. It is essential that your roof prevent moisture from entering the home. A poorly placed shingle or flashing could mean leaks and water damage.

If you are patient and detail-orientated, you may be suited to some larger home improvement tasks, ranging from building a patio to replacing a faucet. However, larger projects can get unwieldy for a weekend DIY job. Be certain that you have the skills needed for the job. Moreover, many product installations require special tools that are not always found in the average household tool chest.

If the job involves electricity or gas/oil connections, call a professional. One mistake here could be fatal. Many jurisdictions require that only a licensed professional perform certain types of work in order to meet building codes.

It’s also best to leave structural work to a professional. Not only could a mistake be dangerous, your home may not meet the local building code. This could make it impossible to sell without corrective measures. In addition, EPA regulations forbid the venting of refrigerant gasses into the atmosphere. Keep this in mind when tinkering with an air conditioning unit or refrigeration project.

*How long can you afford to be without full use of your home? Remodeling is messy work that often renders one or more rooms off limits. Or, you will be without a key piece of equipment, such as a furnace or water heater or toilet. Professionals can do the job a lot faster and minimize the time your home will be disrupted. In the end, the decision boils down to common sense. If you enjoy DIY projects and are good at them, by all means save yourself some money. But don’t lose sight of the fact that saving a few dollars now often increases the cost of a project in the long run.

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